How We Became Dentists
James and Kia met at A.T. Still University, but they came to the profession in very different ways.
James, who hails from Modesto, Calif., said he always wanted to join the health care field growing up but knew that it was so broad and there were many avenues he could take. Then, a friend asked him about dentistry. “I was baffled. I did not know anything about dentistry. This drove me to want to learn more and the curiosity led me here,” he said.
Kia grew up in a small town in Arizona called Coolige and recalled, “I had an amazing dentist growing up who would allow me to shadow and assist him when he was working on my siblings. He raved about dentistry and encouraged me to look into it. I continued to shadow different dentists throughout high school and college and fell in love with dentistry.”
Joining the NHSC
Both James and Kia learned about the NHSC’s Students to Service Loan Repayment Program in dental school. They both agreed that the program was exactly what they needed as they were both working on their Master of Public Health degrees along with Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degrees. They knew public health was where they wanted to focus their careers.
That made applying to the NHSC S2S LRP an easy choice. The two discussed and agreed. “Why not be part of an organization that supports our career choice and can help alleviate some of the burdens from student loan debt? It was a no-brainer for us. We started in 2017 and have been with the NHSC for the past five years,” Kia said.
The NHSC S2S LRP provides awards of up to $120,000 to eligible health professional students studying to become physicians (MD/DO), dentists (DDS/D.M.D.), nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, or physician assistants. Providers agree to serve three years in an underserved community.
Continuing Their Service
After their initial service obligation ended in 2020, and at the onset of the pandemic, the Younans wanted to be closer to family and transferred to Eureka, Calif., with an NHSC Continuation Contract that allows NHSC providers to continue their service at one-year increments for additional loan repayment support.
They have been practicing in northern California at a community health center since July 2020, serving a population in need. “The people here in Eureka, Calif., are so laid back and kind,” James said.
They shared that they realized the true lack of dental care in the area, in that every time they’d tell someone they’d met that they’re dentists, the person applauds and thanks them for coming to practice in the area. “In most cases, people dislike the dentist,” Kia said. “But here, they love us because we are rare and hard to get into to be seen. They appreciate the work we do, and we appreciate being able to work with the NHSC to serve them!”
Communities without regular access to oral health care suffer in other health-related ways. So much, so that increasing that access has been made an objective for the Healthy People 2030 plan. During the pandemic, dental care was delayed for some patients who put off care or were ill, making the services that the Younans provide even more crucial as the country recovers. And they’ve been right there, on the frontlines providing that care to those who needed it most.
“We never would have imagined living in Wisconsin, and we had never been to Eureka, Calif., before,” James said. “I have lived in California my whole life, being born and raised here and I have never been this far north. It is a whole other view and change in scenery in California that I never knew existed.”
They both feel that they’ve made a true impact in the lives of those they’ve served as well as aided in creating organizational changes within the clinics they worked for. They reflected that thus far, it has been an amazing experience and a true aid in their lives.
“Most people do not realize that we have spent our entire lives in school. Having completed nine years of education post high school, we were more than ready to live our lives and start a family. However, we needed to figure out how we could do that with our joint student loans hanging over our heads,” James said. “NHSC helped save the day and helped us live our lives with being able to manage our student loan debt. Thank you.”
James and Kia believe that without the NHSC, community health centers would truly struggle to find providers willing to move to rural location to serve populations in dire need. Why? Because each year, student loans are increasing. They feel that this means that dentists are graduating with more and more student loan debt.
“When they finally graduate, they need to work so they can pay off their loans and make an income,” James said. "It is no secret that dentists can make a lot of money working in private practice versus at a community health center. What helps to offset that is the loan repayment help from the NHSC.”
However, he and Kia note that there are many dentists, like them, who didn’t become dentists for the money. “We want to help people and improve their lives. But at the same time, we need to think about ourselves and our own lives. The NHSC helps with that as we can focus on the patients and not worry so much about the money to pay off our student loans,” Kia said.
Start your NHSC S2S Loan Repayment Program Journey
Eligible health professional students in their final year of school may qualify for up to $120,000 in loan repayment funds, and with continuation contracts may pay off all of their school debt. Learn more about the NHSC Students to Service Loan Repayment Program.
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